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February 23, 2009

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What is the Quarries National Joint Advisory Committee (QNJAC) ?

Quarrying is one of the most dangerous industries in which to work, but since 2000, the sector-based Hard Target initiative has succeeded in greatly reducing the number of reportable injuries. Nigel Bryson highlights some key points from the initiative, and its follow-up, discussing how they can be applied to other sectors and organisations, and demonstrating how applying what is already known can be a formula for success.

The work can start by blowing up thousands of tonnes of rock in the open air. Huge, house-sized trucks can then take many chunks of rock — some weighing several tonnes — to powerful crushers, where they are turned into chippings. So, it is easy to appreciate that those working in rock quarries face significant risks to their health and safety. Similar hazards exist for those who quarry sand, or extract coal on open-cast sites. The day might not start with a bang for all those involved in mineral extraction but it can certainly finish with one!

At the turn of this century, the quarrying sector had one of the worst accident records in the UK. Since then, however, there has been significant improvement, with injuries down by 52 per cent. A major reason for this is the sector-based initiative ‘Hard Target’, born out of the Revitalising Health and Safety Strategy in 2000. It is a prime example of a sector-based initiative whose success lies in the cooperation and effort of the many organisations and individuals involved.

It is also a testament to the value of joint working and success of stakeholder engagement — key themes of the HSE’s new draft strategy.1 Hard Target is one of 11 sector-based initiatives in the manufacturing sector evaluated in a review commissioned by the HSE,2 in which eight key features of a successful initiative were identified. Having established in the late 1990s that standards in quarrying needed to improve, the HSE looked to the industry itself to take the lead.

The existing Quarries National Joint Advisory Committee — QNJAC — of which the HSE was part, used the eight features from the targeted initiative review on which to base the key points of the Hard Target initiative between 2000 and 2005, as follows.

1 A clearly identified champion and organising committee

Any initiative needs a key driver to ensure that all those involved remain motivated to achieve success. Objectives need to be clearly set, targets identified, all relevant parties involved, action prioritised, and progress monitored. In QNJAC, the quarrying sector already had the organising committee in place. Chaired by the HSE it comprises representatives from the relevant trade associations, such as the Quarry Products Association, professional bodies such as the Institute of Quarrying, training and educational establishments that include EPIC, the sector training organisation, and the trade unions Unite and GMB.

While the initiative does not have an identified ‘champion’, each of the stakeholders contributes to developing and implementing an action plan. This is coordinated by the QNJAC and the detail is dealt with through a number of sub committees, which are coordinated by a Steering Group and meet as and when necessary.

This means that plans are agreed by the various parties, which are then implemented by the organisations they represent. For example, the QPA has a national health and safety committee plus five at regional level, all of which promote and monitor action in their member companies. Trade unions, for their part, will identify action for their safety representatives to take at site level to support the initiative.

2 Terms of reference, or partnership agreement for all key participants

The QNJAC formally set out its terms of reference, which establish how the group operates. Objectives include the promotion of health and safety throughout the quarrying sector via an agreed work programme; a forum to explain the HSE’s operational policy; consultation on draft legislation, guidance, etc; and raising health and safety concerns related to quarry operations. This provided the organisational vehicle via which an agreed plan supporting the Hard Target initiative could be channelled.

3 Formal recruitment process and sign-up

Each of the organisations that participated in the Hard Target initiative received a certificate committing them to meeting its aims.

4 Clear leadership and support

As already indicated, the Hard Target initiative has been supported by the trade associations, and the QPA has provided resources for member companies and through the best practice database (see below), which helps underpin sector-specific information.

5 Formal planning of the scheme, including an action plan

While the initiative had a simple aim, it was underpinned by specific action on the part of all organisations involved. The key aim of Hard Target was to reduce the number of reportable injuries by 50 per cent in five years and, while this was straightforward, achieving it required a programme of action that concentrated on certain key issues, which were:

Education and training: Efforts were directed to improve the competence of the workforce — including managers — and raise health and safety performance. This involved EPIC in providing accredited training support; developing a health and safety lecture resource for use on professional courses; NVQs at levels 3, 4, and 5 in management of health, safety and environment; developing a safety passport scheme for contractors; an employee representative’s course specific to quarrying; and an award-winning resource for schools — www.virtualquarry.co.uk

Key groups and processes: Influential groups, such as chief executive officers and employee representatives, were identified. They were kept informed via, seminars, briefings, etc. about the initiative and what they could do to improve health and safety performance. Particular high-risk plant, such as vehicles and conveyors, and processes, such as explosives and geotechnics (relating to the properties and safety of the land being quarried), were targeted to ensure control measures were effective.

Promotional and enforcement activity: This has included campaigns/ information drives on falls from height, tip and excavation rules, provision and use of seatbelts, stability of tips and excavations, quarry design, and competence. The HSE’s enforcement activity was linked to the Hard Target initiative — for example, in 2003/04, during site visits the regulator reviewed managerial competence through NVQ application, and level of workforce involvement through employee representation (two elements that had been identified as contributors to a reduction in injuries).

6 Collation of reliable statistics

The key target was a reduction in reportable injuries. While some over-three-day injuries may not have been reported, it is thought the statistics were reasonably accurate. When the initiative was analysed, figures provided by the QPA — whose members are required to provide reportable injury statistics each quarter — were close to the HSE’s own.

7 Procedures for monitoring and reporting on progress

The QNJAC monitored and reviewed overall progress, and member companies contributed statistical reports at regular intervals, with specific issues being targeted as required. Although organisations are not followed up on an individual basis, they are monitored to some extent via their supply of injury statistics to the QPA, and, of course, by the HSE.

8 Adequate resources to launch and run the scheme

The scheme was launched publicly by the then HSC chair, and, as noted above, the HSE, trade associations, unions, and training organisations have all provided strong support and resources. This combination of effort over the first five years led the evaluation of targeted initiatives team to conclude that: “The scheme has been well structured, planned and resourced and, as such, has been a great success to date.”

Best practice database

www.safequarry.com is accessible to all who register (for free) and covers 22 subjects, including specific health and safety topics, such as worker involvement, manual handling and occupational health, and sector-specific issues, such as cement, quarry and pre-cast concrete. Each year, the QPA organises health and safety best practice awards, and entries are loaded on to the database to form a range of case studies on different issues (in 2008 there were 235 entries).

In addition to the written material there are 63 innovative video clips, many demonstrating how particular ideas work. Every year, a selection of the case studies is published, highlighting ideas from the awards entries and key issues linked to the Hard Target initiative.

As well as the case studies the database includes:

  • Incident alerts: Registered users can elect to receive health and safety incident alerts — normally a side of A4 outlining the details of the incidents and any precautionary advice. The website allows organisations to upload incidents themselves.
  • Hot topics and guidance: Underpinning the Hard Target initiative is controlling known risks, so materials on key issues linked to this are available to all.
  • Toolbox talks: Education is also a key feature, so materials on which to base toolbox talks are freely available.
  • CPD reports: Competence is an important component of the initiative, and Continuing Professional Development is a requirement for many professional qualifications. The best practice database allows reports to be compiled of when registered users accessed the database, for how long, and on what subjects. These reports can contribute towards CPD and are recognised by the Institute of Quarrying and Institute of Asphalt Technology.

Where to now?

While there is no doubt that the Hard Target initiative has achieved its key aim, QPA director of health and safety, Martin Isles, knows there is more to be done: “While good progress has been made, the injury rate is still high,” he says. “We also need to put more emphasis into occupational health, small to medium-sized quarries, and designing safer equipment.”

In reviewing the next stage of the initiative the QNJAC again set a target for injury reduction — a further 50 per cent — and elected to address occupational ill health. This is to be achieved by creating a competence-based industry that:

  • involves the workforce in the managerial decision-making process;
  • provides the workforce and students with knowledge on health and safety management principles;
  • provides accredited training for the workforce;
  • ensures the workplace is designed to minimise health and safety risks for both the workforce and members of the public;
  • selects work equipment by considering health and safety requirements, as well as productivity and cost;
  • addresses occupational health and safety; and
  • maintains the workplace in a safe state.

Key issues currently being looked at include process errors, housekeeping, purchase and design of new equipment, and contractors’ risk assessment. While an updated action plan is being considered and will be launched at the Hillhead 20093 event, the following has been identified:

  • Education and training: Secure a fully competence-assured industry through competency-based qualifications for employees, contractors (20,000 EPIC contractor passports to be held by 2010), and hauliers, and ensuring all supervisors and managers are engaged in a CPD scheme;
  • Worker involvement: Secure effective and competent workforce representation in all quarries via appointment of trained safety reps.

Workplace equipment

The design of the workplace and new equipment is a focus of the Target Zero initiative. In terms of mobile equipment, the UK sector by itself is not a major customer but it has strengthened its relationship with the Atlantic Alliance, which includes Germany, America, and Ireland, as well as the European Union generally. Under this umbrella, moves are being made to influence the designers and manufacturers of dumper trucks, earth-moving equipment, etc. to design in safety measures not just for the operators but also for inspection and maintenance personnel.

Lessons for all

The success of the Hard Target initiative has involved the collective effort of many organisations in a relatively small industrial sector with a long history. While the quarry working environment still contains many challenges, the initial success of the initiative holds lessons for all health and safety practitioners, and there is much that can be applied elsewhere.

The Hard Target initiative has shown that clear leadership, a competent workforce, worker involvement, targeting specific issues for action, and addressing the supply chain all play a major role in improving safety standards. The eight features of successful sector initiatives identify what can be done on a sector basis to improve health and safety standards, but it is clear that individual organisations must also play their part, with action at site level being particularly important.

It is equally clear that a major success factor is the role played by trade associations or employer associations that represent — and have influence over — most of the companies in the sector concerned. The fact that the best practice database is free to all is also significant; similar databases held by other trade/employer associations can only be accessed by members.

Summary

To summarise, individual organisations, or sectors, thinking about implementing a company/sector-wide health and safety initiative, need the following building blocks if success is to be achieved:

  • Leadership: A senior executive heading up the initiative ensures that all levels of management understand its importance. Commitment can be formalised through a signed statement, making clear what the aims are, and what is expected of people.
  • Targeted issues: The initiative must show the value of targeting key issues and then addressing them. Targeting specific issues makes it easier to get relevant information from outside sources.
  • Worker involvement: The quarry sector devised a worker representatives’ training course, agreed with the TUC. Organisations can use such developments to ensure that sector-specific courses can be applied. For trade unions, this would be seen as additional training to the courses provided by them for their safety representatives. A clear statement should be made about the importance of worker involvement, underpinned by clear action.
  • Competence: NVQs and other competence-based training can be used to ensure the workforce operates to a standard.
  • Best practice database: Most companies have procedures for when things go wrong, so why not have a ‘what’s right’ procedure, so that improvements in health and safety standards are recorded and classified, and this information is therefore not lost? Over time, information can be added from outside the company/sector so that ‘corporate knowledge’ is formally mai
    tained.

References

1 HSE: ‘Be part of the solution’ — consultation on a new strategy for health and safety, launched 3 December 2008

2 HSE (2008): Review of targeted initiatives in the manufacturing sector — Research Report 620, HSE Books

3 www.hillhead.com

Nigel Bryson worked at national and international levels on trades-union health and safety issues for more than 20 years before setting up his own consultancy in 2002.

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